A deserted island, a pair of killers, and very little time.
We just finished reading Aground, which Charles Williams wrote in 1960, and it was a solid if unspectacular outing from a highly experienced author. In this one John and Rae (two characters who meet here but would later marry and appear in Dead Calm) are trapped with two weapons smugglers on a yacht that's stuck on a reef. The only way to free the boat is to lighten the load, so the crooks make the couple help unload tons of guns onto the atoll, and thus we get the ticking clock for this thriller—when the boat is light enough to float, the criminals will move it to slightly deeper water, make their captives reload the guns, kill them and be off. A fun gimmick, perhaps not exploited to fullest advantage, but the end result is worthwhile. The Crest paperback edition above, with uncredited art, appeared in 1961.
Hmm... you should be on the ground writhing in agony by now. What's this material? Polyester?
We talked about the Charles Williams thriller A Touch of Death back in 2015. Shorter version: it's great. But we didn't show you the alternate cover art. This edition came first, in 1954, from the brush of Saul Tepper. See the other cover here.
Age is just a number—a prison sentence is real.
The cover blurb on this 1957 Crest paperback for Gil Brewer's Little Tramp is a case of false advertising. The femme fatale is not jail bait—she's eighteen. Which might make involvement with her a case of bad judgment, but not one of illegality. An important detail, that. But even if young Arlene isn't jail bait, she still might be the reason the down-on-his-luck protagonist Gary Dunn goes to prison. She's decided to stage her own kidnapping to pry money from her rich father, and has set Dunn up to look like the perpetrator. The scheme goes wrong when a sleazy private investigator decides to use the scam to kidnap Arlene for real. This is typical Brewer—an everyman finds himself in over his head with a woman. The art however, is not typical. It's first rate stuff, painted by the always great Barye Phillips for Fawcett-Crest in 1957.
It's really been three days since we showered? Wow. The old saying is true—time flies when you're having fun.
Love in Dishevelment by David Greenhood deals with a man and woman in New York City who decide to live together, something that was severely frowned upon in 1948 when the book was first published, especially for two upstanding professionals like the couple in the story. There's also an out-of-wedlock baby, even more frowned upon, and these and other elements led to the book being banned in Australia, though on the whole you could call the story a romance. Greenhood, who also wrote non-fiction and poetry, takes a literary approach here, and he earned good reviews. This Fawcett-Crest edition appeared in 1955 with cover art from James Meese.
My life has gone horribly wrong, but at least I still have my digni— Oh, great. My fly was open this whole time, wasn't it?
In David Goodis' 1954 thriller Street of No Return, a down-on-his luck nobody named Whitey, who had been a great singer years ago only to lose his voice, career, and sobriety—thanks to a dame, of course—finds that even for a man at rock bottom things can get worse. And it involves something more serious than discovering his fly is open, though that would be funny. What happens is an impulsive act of compassion drags him into a pit of murder and corruption, set against the backdrop of Puerto Ricans-vs-cops race riots in Philadelphia. There are plenty of reviews of this online, so for details just look around. This one caught our eye because of the intricate and gritty cover art, yet another top effort from Barye Phillips.
Only good hot sax could make a girl move her body that way.
In 1958's hit novel The Horn beat author John Clellon Holmes tells the story of Edgar Pool, a talented tenor saxophonist who makes his mark on the NYC jazz scene and grows into a global legend. The last twenty-four hours of his life are related via the recollections of friends and lovers, so what you get is a rise-and-fall biography centered around a booze-drugs-women nexus, which Holmes based on the lives of jazz masters Lester Young and Charlie Parker and set in 1954 to give it a tinge of documentary nostalgia. It's a really nice piece of literature. Holmes had already written Go, which is considered the first beat novel; The Horn is the definitive jazz novel from that genre. This 1959 Fawcett Crest paperback comes with worthy cover art from Mitchell Hooks.
What are you, deaf or something? How many times do I have to tell you?
We come across lots of similar covers but these two from Gold Medal Books are truly twins. The first, for Walt Grove's The Man Who Said No, is uncredited, but the second, for Mike Heller's So I'm a Heel, was painted by Barye Phillips. These could actually both be Phillips, looking at them. He sometimes didn't sign his work. But absent confirmation, we'll just say both are great. 1950 and 1957.
Dammit, because of you all the girls started calling me “just barely average Stan.”
John Monahan was a pseudonym used by W.R. Burnett, the man behind Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Asphalt Jungle, and other enduring novels. He also wrote or co-wrote such screenplays as This Gun for Hire and Scarface. In Big Stan he tells the story of a cop named Stanislaus who’s tasked with catching a masked criminal known as the Black Phantom. The Phantom proves elusive until he makes the mistake of targeting Stan’s wife. It’s a fairly well regarded book from an author who wrote some of the classics. The art on this 1953 Gold Medal paperback is by Barye Phillips.
Of course I have anger issues! You would too if you needed ridiculous hair to compensate for a tiny head!
It's always interesting to compare the covers of reissued paperbacks to the original editions. Often they're similar, but sometimes—as with the above examples—they're very different. These two versions of Thunderclap strongly reference the weather but that's all they have in common. Both from Fawcett, the top cover is from 1951, and the second appeared in 1959. Which do you prefer? Think carefully—these are like ink blots. One choice indicates a sane and insightful mind, while the other reveals deep psychological issues. We'll give you a hint—Clorox 'fro bad. Uncredited art for both covers.
Hello? I’m from next door! If you don’t turn down that infernal music I swear I’m going to shoot you!
Charles Williams’ A Touch of Death (published in Britain as Mix Yourself a Redhead) had several different covers, but this 1963 Gold Medal edition with uncredited art is easily the best. It’s a bit strange, though. It almost seems as if it depicts a blind woman. And it does—a woman who’s blind drunk. An intruder is sneaking up on her as she gets loaded and plays her record collection. Don’t worry though. The hero saves her and once she sobers up she reveals herself to be one of mid-century fiction’s greatest femmes fatales—the immortal Madelon Butler. This is a really good book.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
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